Saturday, July 18, 2015

Retail Workers, Dishwashers and Ditch Diggers, Oh My!

I get stuff like this (right) all the time from, to borrow a phrase from Tom Paxton, the "smart alecs" out there who believe they are part of the hereditary ruling elite. As you know I blame Walt Disney for promoting the idea of hereditary nobility long after the idea wore out its usefulness. Too many impressionable kids grew up believing that they were, in fact, the long lost princess (even some of the boys). But really. That's a fairy tale (which also may further explain a few things).

Did you read what you just wrote people? You start out with the standard false assumption in order to make a point that has no real basis in logical thought. The false assumption - that retail workers, dishwashers, ditch diggers and laborers are pretty much too stupid to get training or, at least, shouldn't have to be bothered to make any effort to improve their job situation. They are saying that somehow, just because these jobs exist, we should subsidize them in order to insure they don't get all riotous and mess up the elistists' front lawns.

The assumption is that if you subsidize these positions at rates of pay considerably above what the market offers, that somehow everybody will be happy and peace and joy and choruses of Kumbayah will break out. This is based on Maslow's Heirarchy of Need and idea socialists have seized on to justify placing all governance in the hands of a few elite smart people. The theory goes that if you give people assurance of food, water, clothing, shelter, healthcare and some sort of busywork to do, they will spontaneously want to move up the heirarchy and want to be productive, creative and useful citizens to the collective that gives them the basics. The Russians discovered, for instance, that when you took the farms away from the farmers and paid them what farm hands get paid, they weren't interested in managing their farms and doing all the extra hard work that farm owners do. They wound up with everybody on the farm doing the minimum and everybody began to starve (except the farmers that were growing stuff for themselves off the books).

Unfortunately for Marxist theory, Maslow was wrong. People without adequate food, shelter, clothing and healthcare do self-actuated, highly productive and creative things all the time - whether because they just are that sort of people or because they are hoping for a reward or payoff as a result of what they are doing. The theory is balderdash. If you pay people a lot of money who have no skills, then they have no motivation to learn any new skills or even the bare bones requirements of their jobs. They just sit around drawing a paycheck and doing as little as possible.

I have been an employer. I took over one small company that was losing $5000 a quarter. The staff was demoralized. Nobody had had a raise in ages because there was no money to give them raises. I came in and worked for six weeks without pay, Found a grant to cover my paycheck and began overhauling the organization. Instead of raises being given by time served, I looked around, found a couple of people who werer still working hard and trying to do a good job and gave each a small raise (remember we were still losing money). I visited my people and asked for their input as to how we could improve things and make their lives easier on the job. I acted promptly to get them what I could and gave them timelines for when we would get the rest. I stayed there late at night painting and fixing things up working hours I was not paid for. I got us some nice carpet for the rooms they worked in. We organized their equipment and made it easier for them to get to without having to run begging to the bosses for what they needed. Even got them some equipment they needed. 

In the first quarter we broke even and had a 20% growth in customers. By the end of the year we had cleared $19,000 above operating expenses and had a cash reserve. I gave more raises and worker performance improved except in two or three cases where the employees continued to do the minimum possible and grumbled because they weren't getting raises. As they began to get the idea, they began to do extra and to put more energy into their work. As they did so, we made more money and I was able to give more raises.

Most employers do that kind of thing. If they don't, you shouldn't work for them. If people didn't tolerate bad employers, they would have to pay far more than the good employers for help. Then bad employees could take the jobs with the bad employers, make more money for putting up with lousy working conditions and everybody would be happy. Right?

No, of course, not. If people stopped working for a bad employer who didn't give them a fair wage, the employer would have to improve working conditions and give a fair wage in order to have an adequate number of employees to conduct business. Bad employees, no matter how well paid, drive away customers, so the owner, in order to make more profits would have to pay an increased market price in order to get good employees.

That's how free market capitalism works. Artificially bumping up wages of entry level workers does nothing to improve their working conditions, their performance on the job or the way they take care of a business's customers. Mostly it just gets minimum effort employees replaced by higher paid people who can do the slacker's job and their own or the operation gets roboticized.

Now stick out your tongue and say "nyuh-uh!" That always works. Maybe call me, what was it? Oh, yeah, "mean-spirited and ignorant." Well I turned a losing business into a profitable one with a healthy cash reserve, 30% customer increase, improved facilities, better program and better-paid employees in 9 months. And I raised my entire first year's salary from outside sources. Years later after we ended the project, I still have former employees on my Friends List on Facebook.

So tell me, what have you done, oh great expert on how business should run, that gives you expertise in this matter?

© 2015 by Tom King

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